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NZ Film and Literature Board puts interim ban on award-winning YA novel

New Zealand author Ted Dawe’s 2013 YA novel Into the River has been temporarily banned from sale or supply in his home country following complaints about its portrayal of teenagers having sex and taking drugs.

An interim restriction order from New Zealand’s Film and Literature Board of Review, posted on the Booksellers NZ website, makes it a crime to supply, display or distribute the book, with bookstores and libraries liable for fines of up to NZ$10,000 (A$9036). The restriction order follows a request from conservative political party Family First to reclassify the book as an R18 title under section 49 of the Films, Videos and Publications ACT 1993.

Board president Don Mathieson outlined several reasons for issuing the restriction order while the book’s classification is under review by the full Board, including his opinion that ‘it is highly arguable whether the classification Office has reached the correct conclusion on the application for reconsideration before it’. ‘The correct classification of Into the River under the Act will operate as a semi-precedent, and will exert a significant influence upon other decisions portraying teenage sex and drug-taking,’ said Mathieson.

Booksellers NZ has reported that the full Board is likely to meet later this month. The interim ban, which took effect on 3 September, is the first to be placed since the law was passed 22 years ago.

The decision to ban Into the River, which won the 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Award, overturns deputy chief censor Nick McCully’s decision in August to make the book unrestricted, a ruling that itself overturned a December 2013 order by the Board to classify the book as ‘R14’, which prevented the book from being displayed on library shelves or ‘easily accessible’ in bookstores.  

The original order, which was led by Mathieson following an appeal by Family First, listed among its reasons the book’s ‘bad language’, citing at least 52 instances of swear words; sex scenes, which do not include ‘any discussion or negotiation about safe sex or the use of condoms’; drug taking; ‘other criminal activity’ such as speeding and stealing phone cards; the behaviour of a teacher who provides alcohol and drugs to some of the students; and ‘bullying and racism’, with the book featuring a ‘number of physically and psychologically abusive behaviours surrounding bullying and racism’. The order can be read online here.  

New Zealand publishers association president Melanie Laville-Moore told the New Zealand Herald ‘the ban was disappointing for the author’ and that she hoped ‘good sense would prevail’.  Library and Information Association of New Zealand executive director Joanna Mathew said the ban was ‘concerning’ for freedom of speech in New Zealand. ‘I have read the book, and while there is content in there that is confronting it doesn’t warrant being banned,’ said Matthew.


Category: Junior Local news